European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Communities and their Member States, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) Order 2002

– in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 17th October 2002.

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Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, it is a key United Kingdom interest that the people of the western Balkans should be able to put violence and instability behind them and join the democratic European mainstream.

The past few years have seen great changes in the region. Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia have taken important steps to reject the politics of nationalism and embrace the vision of a European future. Tudjman is dead. Milosevic stands trial for war crimes in The Hague. The crisis last year in Macedonia has been overcome. Recent elections have been broadly peaceful and judged to meet international standards.

The European Union is a key player in the long-term normalisation of the region and its new strategic role in the Balkans has been crucial to these breakthroughs. The agreement we debate today is an example of the contracts the EU is making with the countries of the region, which are central to the EU strategy.

The European Union's stabilisation and association process in the Balkans acknowledges that the countries of the region have a real chance to join the Union. The United Kingdom is a strong supporter of this strategy. It will bring the countries of south-eastern Europe closer to the EU, offering the perspective of EU membership. It does not do this unconditionally. Accession negotiations can start only once the criteria of the Copenhagen European Council and the Treaty of Amsterdam have been met and the regional co-operation satisfactorily established. But the EU offers help to clear those obstacles along the path to Europe. It therefore offers a powerful incentive for change and an important way of building peace and stability in the region.

The EU aid programme for the region is specifically designed to support this process, notably through an emphasis on institution building. It has been allocated nearly 5 billion euros between 2000 and 2006. The crucial contractual elements in this process are the stabilisation and association agreements (SAAs) that the countries conclude with the EU. The first to have been signed, with Macedonia, is before your Lordships today. But all the states of the region will be able to agree SAAs if they meet the criteria.

Macedonia is emerging from a difficult period. The EU, together with other international actors, has played a key role in bringing about a peaceful settlement of last year's conflict. It is to be hoped that the successful elections on 15th September have marked a clear decision by all parties to move forward.

The stabilisation and association agreement is Macedonia's road to European integration. Perhaps I may give your Lordships some examples of how. The agreement recognises Macedonia as a "potential candidate" for the EU. It sets out the stages for Macedonia to progress towards eventual EU membership via a closer partnership with the European Union.

The SAA promotes regional co-operation and will open up regional economic opportunities. In addition, the SAA includes a free trade area to be established after 10 years. The agreement also requires Macedonia to adopt European standards on a range of single market issues that should help build up the administrative capacity within the country. The free trade area builds upon the trade preferences that Macedonia and the other countries of the region already enjoy. These provide the most generous access of any Community trade regime with more than 95 per cent duty free access.

Following last year's ethnic violence in Macedonia, the provisions that provide support for democratic, economic and institutional reforms will be a key element in ensuring that Macedonia remains on the course of peace it has chosen and is ultimately able to join the European Union. Macedonia's recent ethnic and political turmoil have underlined the need for continuing reform in the field of law and order. The provisions for co-operation in justice and home affairs in the SAA will therefore receive particular prominence.

Implementation of the SAA by Macedonia will be a central and continuing requirement of the European Union. The formation of the new government in Skopje provides the opportunity to take the steps necessary for this. Implementation of the SAA will reinforce public administration reform and good governance. Our own DfID and the European Commission are working to provide support for this.

I had hoped to be able today to present the EU/Croatia stabilisation and association agreement to your Lordships. However, for the promise of "potential candidate" of the EU to be meaningful, it is essential to maintain the political criteria. This includes full co-operation with the EU and the international community. As many of your Lordships will be aware, the Croatian Government have failed to hand over General Janko Bobetko to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia—the ICTY. General Bobetko has been indicted for war crimes, and co-operation with the ICTY is an SAA requirement for Croatia. The EU has warned Croatia that it must co-operate with the ICTY if it wants to pursue its European vocation. Given that Croatia is not respecting its obligations, the Government have decided that it would not be appropriate to put the SAA before the House today.

Nevertheless, the UK remains a staunch supporter of Croatia's EU aspirations. We hope that Croatia will move swiftly to comply with the indictment against General Bobetko and thereby fulfil its international obligations. Once this is resolved, we will continue the process of ratifying Croatia's SAA.

The Government believe that the European Union's role as a source of stability is vital for the future peace of the western Balkans. The SAAs are important building blocks for this. The Macedonian stabilisation and association agreement will serve as a strong political message of EU support to the wider region and should act as a catalyst for other states. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 17th July be approved [37th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for so clearly explaining this order and the reason why we are not discussing Croatia today. On behalf of these Benches, I should also like to wish her well after her recent operation.

We welcome any measures that would bring greater stability to south-east Europe after the many years of conflict these countries have endured. It is time to help rebuild their external relations with surrounding neighbours as well as with the EU. It is time also to rebuild their confidence and prosperity. I should add that one sphere in which Macedonia clearly does not need our support or advice is football.

This agreement is an opportunity for the EU to prove its commitment to Macedonia as a "potential candidate". Macedonia needs a clear prospect of accession to the EU. Can the Minister tell the House what expectations Macedonia has for joining the EU and a possible timeframe? Implementing a framework that encourages regular political dialogue and a commitment to promote regional co-operation increases the chance of success. We welcome the assistance to support democratic, economic and institutional reforms, the co- operation in justice and home affairs, and the establishment of a free trade area.

Macedonia has been given a transitional period of only six years before a free trade area is established. We feel that, on balance, this is a realistic period and will help focus the attention of policy makers in Macedonia on maintaining good governance and stability. This is also an opportunity for Macedonia to prove its commitment to the peace process. Achieving the goals of the SAAs will not be easy. As the Minister pointed out, Macedonia is emerging from a difficult period. She also mentioned the violence there last year.

The European Commission has warned of potential dangers to the success of the SAA. In its first report on the stabilisation and association process for south-east Europe, it said that,

"critical weaknesses in the rule of law and democratic institutions, endemic corruption, the threat of resurgence of extreme forms of nationalism, as well as poverty and social exclusion, all pose a serious threat".

Bearing in mind that SAAs are a means of harmonising the legislation of the "potential EU candidates" such as Macedonia with European law, how do the Government expect to avoid such pitfalls?

Finally, what assurances has the EU sought to ensure the peace and stability required by the SAAs?

Photo of Lord Roper Lord Roper Liberal Democrat Lords Chief Whip

My Lords, I rise from these Benches to support the adoption of this extremely important order. As has been said, it is the first of the stability and association agreements with one of the west Balkan countries to come before this House. I shall return in a moment to the issue of the Croatian SAA. As one who was concerned with issues of the west Balkans before becoming a Member of this place, it gives me great pleasure to participate in this debate. The joys and uncertainties of being a Chief Whip are manifold, and being able to speak in this debate is certainly one of the joys.

Macedonia is a very beautiful country, as anyone who has travelled in the vicinity of Lake Ohrid will know. The foundation of much of Slav culture can be found around Lake Ohrid. It was in a monastery near there that St Cyril and his colleagues first developed the Cyrillic alphabet which spread not only around the west Balkans but into Russia. Macedonia is a country of great culture and history.

As we know, however, Macedonia has also had considerable problems. The strains between the Slavo-Macedonian and Albanian communities which arose in the post-communist period were a major concern to us only 18 months ago. The strains are partly internal to the country. The Albanian community felt that it was under-represented in some national institutions and that its opportunities for education were not equal to those of the majority, or indeed in accordance with the initial drafts of the constitution of the Macedonian Republic.

There have been great efforts. The efforts of the EU High Representative and those working with him and of NATO were an extraordinarily interesting example of co-operation between two western institutions in bringing stability to a country which could have been destabilised and created yet another problem in the west Balkans, following earlier conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. We should commend those efforts.

As has been said from the Opposition Benches, by asking Macedonia to live up to the obligations of the stability and association agreement, we are expecting a great deal. Leaving aside Croatia, to which I shall return, I believe that the process is a good example not only to Macedonia but to other countries of the west Balkans which should be in the queue. To my mind the only way in which we shall be able to bring stability to the area which lies between two separate parts of the European Union—I refer to the countries to the north of Italy and of Austria and, in the future, of Hungary, and those to the south of Greece—is if we can demonstrate to them the opportunities afforded by membership of the European Union. Then we shall see them become members of it in due course.

I refer to a slightly trivial but not, unfortunately, totally unimportant issue. Most of us have this evening talked about Macedonia. Indeed, yesterday evening when I heard a good deal of discussion of that country, I do not remember anyone mentioning the name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or, indeed, the acronym FYROM. When the country team plays in football matches, the FYROM acronym rarely appears. Yet, to this day, the country is known at the United Nations by the acronym, FYROM. However, I notice that that is translated differently in EU documents according to the language in which the relevant document is written. That matter is an unfortunate consequence of the quarrels which occurred in the early 1990s between Greece and the incipient republic of Macedonia. A difficult compromise was reached to use the acronym FYROM. That acronym is a relic of quarrels between Greece and the republic which go back to disputes over Alexander the Great and the symbols which he used. I believe that many of us can remember the heat, as opposed to the light, which was generated by Greeks and Macedonians on this subject in the early 1990s. It is rather sad that the European Union has not been able to use its influence with its Greek colleagues and elsewhere to resolve this rather tedious and trivial piece of history to enable the country to be referred to as Macedonia, as is the football team.

It was drawn to my attention that paragraphs 8 and 9 of the explanatory memorandum refer to the figures nil and nil. Perhaps that is a better result than that which occurred last night. I note that the agreement will result in a low cost to the public purse. As the Minister said in moving the order, we are making important contributions through DfID and in other ways. The agreement does not increase the figure of 5 billion euros—I believe that is the figure the Minister mentioned—which the European Union is contributing. If we want to build this nation into a healthy potential collaborator within the Union, it is extremely important that we assist it in the programmes which are undertaken.

Before I conclude I wish to pick up a point made by the Minister in introducing the order; namely, that we do not have the Croatian order before us today. That is a disappointment to all of us. Developments in Croatia since the death of Tudjman have been in general rather encouraging in a number of ways although there have been economic setbacks and disappointments.

I am rather tempted—although I shall not do so—to follow the line taken by the right reverend Prelate at Question Time who asked whether we could not exert some leverage on Slovakia as regards the language that is directed at British players during football matches in which Britain and Slovakia take part. I refer to exerting influence in the negotiations and discussions which will take place in Copenhagen. We can exert leverage upon countries that wish to accede to the European Union. In the case of Croatia, that is a good thing.

It is rather difficult to make too many predictions about accessions to the European Union. Therefore, I resist the temptation to make a prediction as to whether Macedonia will win a European football championship outright before it accedes to the European Union. For various reasons, I hope that it accedes first.

Photo of Lord Biffen Lord Biffen Conservative

My Lords, the Motion seeks the approval of the draft order laid before the House on 17th July. Clearly, it will be approved and I am content that that should be so. However, I should like to take advantage of this debate to make three sets of comments which are largely derived from the explanatory memorandum. This is an opportunity for us to consider not merely the situation in Macedonia and its prospects of eventual membership of the European Union but also the situation of the west Balkans generally.

First, what are the ultimate objectives? I take no view on the eventual constitutional relationship between Serbia and Montenegro or, indeed, on the eventual status of Kosovo. However, as regards Bosnia, Croatia, and, ultimately, Albania, we have in prospect the whole of the Balkans being transformed into an integral part of whatever association we have in respect of Europe. It is not just a question of our instructing them how they should adjust their procedures but also of their telling us that a congress of Europe, a European partnership, will have to be a great deal more flexible than it has tended to be in the past if such a future is to be happily accommodated. I hope that that will be the case but I believe that such a situation will put particular pressure on the factors of decentralisation and of variety.

If one is still talking largely in economic terms and thinking of the original Rome treaty as being the standard by which membership will be accommodated, one must be increasingly suspicious of whether that particular economic blueprint—happy as I was with it in respect of the United Kingdom—will be suitable in a world where capitalism is under different considerations and different pressures and, above all, incorporating parts of Europe where there is a strong corporatist tradition. I have no reason to believe that that will just disappear because of what have been the fashionable economics of western Europe.

I turn to my second point. There is a tendency in most European matters to have a rhetoric which is reassuring but not too precise and a reality which is rather different. The memorandum states that provisions of agreements may be

"directly effective in the United Kingdom, if they are sufficiently clear, precise and unconditional".

A great deal of the argument with regard to the future development of Macedonia and, indeed, that of the adjacent Balkan countries will concern the reconciliation of their economies with those of the existing European Union member states. On the basis of the existing European Union—not the European Union expanded by the 10 applicant members—we are learning from the behaviour of the German economy in the context of the euro and from the behaviour of French public spending ambitions in the context of the stabilisation requirements that even as regards economies that are in some ways relatively in harmony, great difficulties arise. In my judgment, those difficulties will be compounded rather than diminished over time.

Therefore, we should consider particularly the economic circumstances of applicant countries, particularly Macedonia. I say that in no hostile sense. However, there is a growing awareness of a Europe whose members' economic practices are often somewhat different from those of the original six members of the European Community and, indeed, those of the current expanded Community.

I rest that tentative proposition on the words of Commissioner Prodi. His discussion of the problems that would arise from the expansion of the European Union to include the 10 applicant members was reported in a Commission press release of 9th October. He said:

"I should also mention another two extremely serious problems: corruption, which, apart from a few exceptions, infects many of these countries, and the shameful trafficking in human beings".

I shall discuss corruption for a moment. I pass no moral judgment on this matter but I believe that that is a reasonable description on the part of Signor Prodi of that situation. I do not believe that that would be any less reasonable in relation to the west Balkan countries that are now seeking the prospect of eventual membership. That is not simply a question of financial corruption or the unreliability of accounts, which would make even western accounts appear tolerably blameless; I refer also to a commercial world that is free from regulation and which contracts out of regulation. Regulation is an increasing aspect of the economic processes in the existing European Union. To assess that—so that we can measure the nature of the problem and the speed with which we should try to reconcile it—those rather imprecise words and concepts referred to by Signor Prodi have to be quantified. If the language is clear, precise and unconditional, I say to the House that a great deal of the world of economics—a great deal of the world of economics in the 10 applicant countries as well as in Macedonia and its immediate neighbours—will inevitably be highly conditional. We must recognise that and make our own assessments.

Finally, I turn to the issue that has inhibited our consideration of Croatia this evening; namely, the war crime trials. These are immensely difficult situations and I am sorry that this debate proceeds in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who, probably more than any other Member of this House, is, by his experience, well able to speak authoritatively of the situation in former Yugoslavia. I do not know what his recorded opinions are; I wish that he were here so that he could give us some guidance in this regard. It is my impression that he feels that we are approaching the time when the constant preoccupation and search for war crimes is proving counterproductive. There must be some reality to that view, if that is in fact his view.

Does the House really suppose that the recent elections in Yugoslavia—they ended with the fiasco of having now had three elections but not enough people have voted to validate them—are not unconnected with the resentment in that country about the treatment of Milosevic and the powerful residual support for him? Can we not think more in terms of what Mandela and the South Africans did to try to overcome the termination of what was then a period of acute discord and hostility? We can learn much from that.

This debate has ranged as far back as Alexander the Great so perhaps I can tuck in a reference to our own experience during the Restoration in 1660. One of the first Acts was the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion. As the cynics then said, "Indemnity for the king's foes and oblivion for the king's friends". I stress that at some stage one has to draw the line. I believe that, whatever may be the therapeutic virtue of war crimes—I should be far happier if they were settled within national boundaries and national jurisdictions—at some point we have to draw the line as part of the effort to create a better confidence and a sense of renewal and reconciliation in that part of Europe.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour 8:45 pm, 17th October 2002

My Lords, I begin by echoing what has been said: I welcome my noble friend back to the House and I hope that she will soon be running and skipping again.

I have two reasons for wanting to discuss the order. First, I visited Macedonia at the invitation of the Foreign Office a year ago to meet trade unions and Ministers in the Macedonian Government, largely to discuss the question of structural change and employment in the context of its national framework agreement. Secondly, as has been said, the order ties in with the whole question of aid to the west Balkans generally. I am a member of Sub-Committee A, which in April produced the report, Responding to the Balkan Challenge: the role of EU aid. Because it is not being debated separately, perhaps I may also make a couple of remarks on that.

I stress the enormous difficulty and delicacy of combining and reconciling the external requirements of the stabilisation and association agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Biffen, mentioned corruption. That is one of many examples of the delicacy involved: it is essential to have a firm grip on the detail. The papers to which these countries are signing up are far from generalised statements; they are very detailed indeed. Perhaps I differ from the interpretation of the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, in that regard. I refer to the national strategy papers and so on. It is difficult so far to reconcile the greater detailed papers with the lack of much ownership down the line of the reform programme on the ground.

It is astonishing, for example, that people are expected to change their employment structures without having the first idea of where alternative employment might be found. I am afraid that, much as I share the view that the market economy is essentially where we are going, I certainly do not share the view that it is a miracle cure and that one can get rid of half of the people in the old state enterprises, as they did, without knowing what they are going to do and not be surprised that, years later, the gross national product per head is still below what it was when the exercise was starting out.

I welcome the fact that, in their response to the report of the European Union Committee, the Government accepted the recommendation, strongly endorsing the view that local ownership of those processes is crucial to their successful implementation. The country strategy papers are colloquially known as the EU "road map"; there is a "road map" for Macedonia, for Bosnia, and so on. The road map is a very effective metaphor. We all know that we are not forced to follow a road map—we can throw it on the back seat of the car—but that when we want to look at it, it is there. It has become an accepted metaphor and it somehow involves the idea that it is a particular person's road map, although it is written in Brussels or, I hope, Skopje or Tetovo and so on.

It follows from what I have said that we still need to see a culture change to avoid the impression that international civil servants simply parachute in their blueprint for country x and express surprise when not much happens at the other end. I put that dilemma to the Deputy Prime Minister of Macedonia, pointing out that trade unions and other stakeholders in civil society said that they had not been consulted on the strategy paper. He accepted on behalf of the Macedonian Government that they had not given the required attention to that point, but neither had the European Union. Indeed, the EU ambassador in Skopje said, "I agree with your analysis, but there is not a lot that I can do about it with my resources". I am afraid that a resource-intensive operation is required on the ground.

There are no easy answers to the situation. After all, we find the problems of reform not a little difficult in Britain—never mind in a country which has 15 or a maximum of 20 per cent of EU average GDP per head. The countries of the west Balkans clearly have a very long way to go in order to get anywhere near raising their sights to EU accession. But it is important that we put that road in front of them and ask them to believe in it.

I hope that the British Government can reinforce what has been said about the EU road map requiring more resources both through the EU and bilaterally. We recognise that 100 million euros a year are being put into Macedonia. The Minister mentioned 5 billion euros over five years.

I shall mention one other figure before I sit down. The 5 billion euros over five years from the EU should be considered side by side with the 5 billion euros that are spent on the military every year in the west Balkans. With regard to the financial questions, we must ask ourselves constantly whether it is better to be seen to succeed in producing those 5 billion euros a year on the military front by having a very effective aid programme. That is becoming increasingly successful. I am sure that my noble friend will agree that the figures make a striking juxtaposition.

In conclusion, I believe that encouraging features are to be seen in Macedonia. My noble friend mentioned that with regard to the internal situation, and I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, hinted at it vis a vis the Albanian population and the significance of the southern neighbour, Greece, which I believe started to change its attitude towards Skopje. When I was there, I organised meetings between the sectoral unions in Greece and those in Macedonia—that is, the forestry, construction and transport sectors and so on, which had never met. Over the years, early meetings in Athens and Thessalonika went into rhetorical overdrive at the very mention of each other. Now—lo and behold!—they are meeting and co-operating.

We pointed out to them, although that hardly needed to be done, that one good reason for that was that the European Union is not in Brussels; it is 30 or 40 miles down the road over the border towards Thessalonika. That is the new geopolitical reality which can be put alongside the relationship with Bulgaria and, perhaps I may say, Turkey, Albania, Serbia and so on.

I hope that my noble friend will agree that, for all those reasons, and among all the other priorities which naturally face the Government, it is important that the British Government's profile is enhanced.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I start by thanking noble Lords who have been kind enough to wish me well. I do not know about "springing about like a lamb"; it would nice just not to hobble to the Dispatch Box. I am sure that that will soon be the case.

I shall do my best to answer the questions raised by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, asked about the timeframe for the potential candidacy of Macedonia to the EU. I am sure the noble Lord did not believe that I would be able to talk in terms of years or months and years. However, we in this country fully support Macedonia's EU aspirations, and we believe that the implementation of the SAA will be the best and quickest way to take them forward on that road. We very much wish to help them in doing so and to clear the obstacles—some of which I referred to in my opening remarks.

In doing that and in helping with the implementation—another point raised by the noble Lord—perhaps I can give a little more detail. The Department for International Development has provided support to the sector for European integration office within the Macedonian Government, including training and advice on Macedonia's obligations under Article 68 of the SAA. That article ensures that the laws of Macedonia are compatible with the laws of the EU.

Future support for the sector for European integration will also include specialist legal training, which is obviously an important point. We shall give briefings to parliamentarians in a one-day session after the new government have formed, and that should take place during the course of the next week or so. DfID is also assisting central government with a programme of public administration reform, particularly for the general secretariat, the public administration reform unit and the civil service agency.

The scope of the project has been broadened to take account of demands placed upon the central government, following the signing of the framework agreement in August 2001. Therefore, as well as going through the EU, the UK is giving bilateral assistance. We are giving assistance on conflict prevention and balance of payments support. We are giving technical assistance in support of the framework agreement, which resolved last year's conflict, and a further £2 million of DfID assistance is being made available in various programmes.

Overall, the EU aid programme for Macedonia is in the order of 193.2 million euros between 2000 and 2004. I hope that that gives the noble Lord a little more detail about the practicalities of what we are trying to achieve in helping Macedonia forward on this road.

I believe that the warmth of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Roper, about Macedonia will be very much appreciated by Macedonia's many friends in this country and, indeed, in the country itself. I agree strongly with what he said about NATO. NATO's Task Force Fox has played a significant role in consolidating peace and security in Macedonia. Of course, Task Force Fox will continue to offer international monitors the protection that they need until its mandate runs out on 15th December this year.

Similarly, I agreed with the point—it was not a trivial one—that the noble Lord made about the name of Macedonia. The United Kingdom recognises Macedonia as the Republic of Macedonia in our bilateral relations. We, like the noble Lord, hope that Greece and Macedonia will work together to find a solution to the dispute that has given rise to the point that the noble Lord raised about a sensible name for Macedonia in the future.

The noble Lord also raised issues relating to Croatia. I agree with him and with the noble Lord, Lord Biffen. Of course, the situation is disappointing. However, there was a difference of emphasis between my remarks and those of the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, and possibly those of the noble Lord, Lord Roper. In order for the signing of the SAAs to be a meaningful step, there must be some significance in singling out the potential candidates for the EU. General Bobetko is indicted for crimes committed, allegedly, as recently as 1994. That is not very long ago; those crimes occurred in recent memory and are still the cause of a great deal of anger, frustration and difficulty.

The ICTY is there for a purpose. It is supported by the United Kingdom, and we debated the legislation in support of the tribunal. I believe that it is incumbent upon us to require of those who put themselves forward as potential candidates for the EU that they abide by those fundamental principles, too.

The noble Lord, Lord Biffen, asked what the objectives were in taking forward that position. The objectives are peace, stability and prosperity for the region. In this instance, the objectives relate to Macedonia but, as I outlined, we hope that they will also apply to the other countries of the western Balkans as we proceed. If those countries wish to draw nearer to the EU, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, that they must draw closer mutually, as he indicated. If that is what the countries of the western Balkans want, then the stabilisation and association agreements provide the quickest way to achieve that objective. The noble Lord also talked about the rhetoric. He said that it was sometimes more reassuring but not necessarily terribly precise. I suspect that there is some truth in that.

The noble Lord commented on the European economies, on which I will not dwell. However, we encourage the Macedonian authorities to concentrate their efforts on economic reform. We hope that the new government will initiate negotiations with the IMF and reach agreement on a new standby arrangement as soon as possible. The noble Lord also raised the question of corruption. I should like to reassure him that the European Union is in constant dialogue with the Macedonian authorities through the EU special representative based in our embassy in Skopje on the issues concerning corruption and the ways in which it can be combated. The SAA should help because it contains provisions for an annual stabilisation and association council at which those issues will be discussed.

I agree with a great many of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Lea. We hope that the SAAs will be a key to bringing Macedonia up to some of the European standards, of which we are all well aware. We also agree that there is a great deal of work ahead in doing that. However, the point made by the noble Lord about the need for our friends in Macedonia to have real ownership of a route map which takes them forward was well made and is well taken.

It is important that the Macedonian authorities work towards improving civil society representation. Again, our embassy in Skopje has fed into the commission the need to pursue that through the EU aid programme. I have indicated some of the ways in which that programme will be taking forward those issues. It is important that we keep relating those back to the development of the institutions of civil societies. The points I made were very much in line with the thrust of the report referred to by my noble friend.

I come back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Roper. I do not know about a score of 0-0. I found watching the match yesterday evening very exciting. The score line of 2-2 does not necessarily indicate just how exciting it was. We can all hope that the Macedonian politicians now equit themselves as well as the Macedonian footballers did last night.

We believe that the role of the European Union as a source of stability is vital for the future peace of the western Balkans. The SAAs are important building blocks working towards that. The Macedonian stabilisation and association agreement will serve as a strong message of European support to the wider regions. We very much hope that this will act as an example and a catalyst to other countries in the region. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 9:03 pm, 17th October 2002

My Lords, I beg to move that the House adjourn during pleasure until 9.15 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 9.4 to 9.15 p.m.]